Romantic tales of years ago are not ones that I actively seek out. I don’t have to, my wife fills that void. I have seen The Notebook twice now. I think I should have stopped at the first viewing. I recalled it being a harmless and mildly enjoyable romantic drama with a somewhat interesting twist. This time around I was nearly in tears…from boredom.
Duke (James Garner), an elderly man reads a romance novel in the form of a notebook to an elderly woman (Gena Rowlands) in a nursing home. The story is about a country boy with a free spirit, Noah (Ryan Gosling) and the rich southern belle, Allie. Boy pursues girl out of his social rank. Girl rejects his advances. Boy doesn’t give up. Girl gives in. They fall madly in love. The girl’s parents disapprove and do their best to ensure the two don’t become anything more than a summer fling. Girl and boy eventually beat the odds and get back together – or do they? My description may seem to short change the emotion, the romance, the setting, the acting, the loving embraces and longing looks, but I only describe it in a way the director Nick Cassavetes portrays it on screen. It’s as if scenes are only there to lead to the rip your heart out and slam it back in final act.
Ryan Gosling is an actor I find maddeningly inconsistent. Here he is supposed to be a charming, ah-shucks southern guy with a sneaky charisma. The role isn’t right, as the melancholy loner seems to fit his onscreen persona much better, like Lars and The Real Girl and Drive. He does his best but the result is uneven at best.
For a film that seems like it can’t wait to get to the end it is dreadfully slow. I’m all for slowly paced films. I’m a big fan of Lost in Translation, a film no one would accuse of being briskly paced. Films that feel slow though? That is a problem and it is a problem The Notebook suffers from. There is little if any memorable dialogue. Romantic scenes feel forced and drawn out. Time passes in the narrative in odd ways. Noah goes to war after Allie leaves him for college in New York City. He loses a best friend on the battlefield and she gains a fiancee. Neither seem of great consequence. It’s as if both events are mere mile markers on the highway to the modern day with the elderly man and woman at the nursing home. Mind you, it’s a highway with a lot of toll booths that turn a speedy drive into a painfully slow trek.
Competently made but dull overall, The Notebook desires to be more than just another romantic drama by mixing past and present story lines with a bit of a curveball. In its exuberance to surprise in the end, the story moves from scene to scene in an almost obligatory manner, devoid of much character and memorable moments.